Archive for the ‘yoga for mental health’ Category

Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm

Is there anyone without some fear? With the experience of fear comes a constant search for a way out of it. There is no instantaneous relief. But the enlightened Ones state there is a path to freedom from fear. First we must understand our fears and their source. Then the fear is transformed with love—love being the antidote to fear. Fear by Thich Nhat Hanh, the well-loved Vietnamese Buddhist monk and author of numerous books, offers compassionate wisdom along with numerous specific practices for insight into and release of fear.

For the full review, please refer to http://mahasriyoga.com/bookreviews/Fear.html

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Thanks to Cindy for this post.

Western psychotherapy has hardly paid any attention to the experience and interpretation of disturbed physical sensations and action patterns. Yoga is one of the Asian traditions that clearly help reintegrate body and mind. For someone to heal from PTSD [post-traumatic stress syndrome], one must learn how to control bodily reflexes. PTSD causes memory to be stored at a sensory level—in the body. Yoga offers a way to reprogram automatic physical responses. Mindfulness, learning to become a careful observer of the ebb and flow of internal experience, and noticing whatever thoughts, feelings, body sensations and impulses emerge are important components in healing PTSD….

What most people do not realize is that trauma is not the story of something awful that happened in the past, but the residue of imprints left behind in people’s sensory and hormonal systems. Traumatized people often are terrified of the sensations in their own bodies. Most trauma-sensitive people need some form of body oriented psychotherapy or bodywork to regain a sense of safety in their bodies.

These excerpt are from the interview “Yoga and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” with Bessel van der Kolk, MD, Integral Yoga Magazine 2009 issue, pages 12-13, source http://www.traumacenter.org/clients/MagInside.Su09.p12-13.pdf.

Thanks to Cindy for introducing me to On Being and the podcast “Restoring the Body” which can be heard on  http://www.onbeing.org/program/restoring-the-body-bessel-van-der-kolk-on-yoga-emdr-and-treating-trauma/5801.

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Here is a partial list of books I went through to understand anxiety and fear. Some of the books have been reviewed on www.mahasriyoga.com.

Helpful in alphabetical order

1. Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha

by Tara Brach

2. Man’s Search for Meaning

by Viktor Frankl

3. Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning (not an easy read)

by Viktor Frankl

4. Mindfulness in Plain English

by Bhante Gunaratana

5. Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English 

by Bhante Gunaratana

6. Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm

by Thich Nhat Hanh

7. The Living Gita

by Swami Satchidananda

8. Four Chapters on Freedom: Commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali  (not an easy read)

by Swami Satyananda Saraswati

9. Buddha (eight volumes of graphic novels)

by Osamu Tezuka

10. Raja Yoga: Conquering the Internal Nature

by Swami Vivekananda

Not so helpful

11. When Fear Falls Away: The Story of a Sudden Awakening

by Jan Frazier

12. When Bad Things Happen to Good People

by Harold Kushner

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Here are the problems with being told to count to 4, 5, 6 while breathing in and doing the same breathing out by various sources (newsletter from our medical provider, yoga books, stress management advice, etc.):

Average rate of breathing: I have been watching the number of breaths per minute, called eupnea, in the age range of 14 to 87 years. It is about 15 breaths per minute. It is in the range of the figures cited by a Bihar School of Yoga book on prana. Going online, Wikipedia confirms that the observation falls roughly in the middle of the range. So assuming 15 breaths per minute, each breath is 4 seconds or a count of 4–2 in and 2 out. It is also counted by counting the number of times the chest rises in one minute.

Stretching the breath: So if people are asked to double or triple the duration of their breath, they are likely to strain their lungs, have discomfort in the chest, and feel light-headed. Longer breath is more calming but there is a method to it. Before beginning a breath control exercise, observe the length of your own natural breath.

Those of us who for years have trained ourselves to breathe from the belly may not have a significant rise in the chest and that may affect the counting based on chest rises.

Chest breathing versus belly breathing: Most people are chest breathers. Try breathing through the chest and lengthening the breath (I did for this blog post) and see what happens. The breath creates tightness and discomfort in the chest. After a few of these breaths, people may experience gasping and shortness of breath. A short breath seems to feel fine in the chest but not a long one. The chest fills up quickly and it is a more stressful breath. It is good when you need quick bursts of oxygen in times of stress. However, if you learn to breathe from the belly (also called abdominal breath) it is much easier to lengthen and deepen the breath. There is no tightness, no discomfort as long as you don’t overdo it. The back must be straight and the chest very slightly raised, otherwise the breath is constricted, strangled, and short. This breath is relaxed and soothing.

Gradual lengthening: The breath cannot be doubled or tripled at once. The lungs cannot be stretched that much without strain. It must be done gradually, slowly. This is a step-by-step, systematic process: relax the body and mind, become aware of the body, and become familiar with the breath. Then breathe with the whole body flushing out the respiratory system and gently stretching it with comfort. This brings awareness of the breath in all parts of the respiratory system. Then teach the body how to breathe from the belly and retrain it. The body is then ready to pace the breath to a comfortable count and adding one second at a time till the breath settles to the new pace–just like in exercise, repetitions and sets are gradually added. Adding sound is an effective way to stretch the breath.

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Being in flow is losing sense of self and Daniel Kahneman talks about it in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow. My sons talk about “being in flow” when they are deep in work or a math problem–losing all sense of self, time, space, as they produce their best work that seems to just flow effortlessly from them.

It is another way of describing meditation. There is a lot about the Kahneman book that in my mind connects dots between behavioral economics and yoga philosophy, but that will be another blog post at some future date.

The breath is a constant flow and an awareness of it is Being in the Flow of Being –the state of mindfulness or meditation. This is what Amarnath Mukherjee posts on Facebook: Inhale, and God approaches you. Hold the inhalation, and God remains with you. Exhale, and you approach God. Hold the exhalation, and surrender to God. ~Krishnamacharya

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Holidays and clearing out things is sometimes like opening up a Pandora’s box of memories–good and bad. We dare not open and look inside the box.

We want to hold on to the “good” and avoid the “bad” but the negative has a way of clinging like a limpet in the mind and growing well beyond its origin. It occupies so much space and consumes so much energy in some minds that like a patch of soil, filled with overgrown weeds, there is no room for anything else to germinate and bloom.

Yoga is psychotherapy. Yoga is not a limited mat practice of bending, twisting, flipping. The real practice is life with all its relationships and circumstances.

In the last post, I mentioned avoiding difficult relatives where possible. This is not necessarily running away. We don’t have to deliberately walk into every storm or raging fire. There is nothing wrong in self-preservation, giving yourself and others time out from mutually destructive emotional cycles. Yoga does not mean letting others walk all over you and take advantage of you. We can deal with the situation objectively, firmly, dispassionately, without being consumed by it. To help move back to the stillness that lies right within us, try Calming the Storm and the breathing practice of bhramari.

There are some relationships that will not be resolved by avoidance. They will fester and provide no peace until they are seen clearly, objectively, with some compassion, forgiveness, and humility. This does not have to excuse the wrongs done, but holding on to them does not create a more positive path forward either. By forgiving ourselves as well as others, we are able to free ourselves from the torment of the troubling past and move on.

Often, children continue to hold the hurt, anger, resentment against parents and relatives long gone. So it is no longer the physical presence of the person that hurts but the thoughts in our own mind. The source is the thoughts, our own thoughts that are hurtful and cause suffering–and not that person. The person is just the trigger. It is our own reactions that we nurture and feed with constant attention, illusions, and additions that are hurtful to us. We energize, feed, and grow them.

Yoga and many other styles of meditations require paying attention to our minds–not avoiding the painful and not seeking the pleasant. We watch objectively without labels, and watch the labels (if they appear) without judgment.

This means developing the attitude of a witness (sakshi) and watching with detachment (vairagya). The process leads to an understanding of human suffering and compassion for all beings (karuna), even those who hurt us (Forgive them Lord as know not what they doeth). We don’t hold our young children’s sometimes hurtful behavior against them; we know they are kids and don’t always know what they are doing. We continue to love them! Most of us are very young and immature spiritually.

The detachment of vairagya is also close to non-acquistion/non-possessiveness (aparigraha). Nothing is “mine.” The two help reduce or stop the cycle of desire, aversion, attraction, and that constant production of karma. Equanimity is stopping that cycle or vortex.

Learning this is tough and the only way is to live life with awareness. Life and its pleasant and unpleasant relationships, and varying circumstances, is the learning ground of yoga. We make mistakes constantly and hopefully learn by keeping the ego in check. The equanimity we experience is the sign of progress in yoga. It is so much easier to see the wrong in others and so much harder to see it in ourselves.

Confronted with a tough parent, sibling, child, in-law, we keep the wisdom and teaching of yoga philosophy in our awareness and make an effort to implement it. We do it to seek our own peace.

I do recommend this moving article (A Caregiver’s Guide to Compassion in Yoga International) of a daughter coming to terms with her father after many years. Most of us who have come to yoga will be able to relate to it; most of us have arrived where we are to heal ourselves. Our hurts have been the blessings to peace.

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In the chair yoga, pranayama, and meditation class that I do at our local senior community center, many seniors (70-87 years old) are  active, pro-active, in their health care. Many do multiple types of exercises. None of them get on the floor. There are several health issues in the group of 20-30, mostly women. There are hip replacements, knee replacements, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, arthritis, poor balance, back problems, Parkinson’s, and shoulder problems.

After our session,  a majority of them self-report significant improvements in stiffness, range-of-motion, and pain. Some report better bowel function. Some feel an ease in back pain. One says her breathing has improved considerably. The ones with Parkinson’s report that their anxiety disappears–for one, the effect lasts for “some time” and her tremors lessen or disappear during the session.  She tells me her anxiety just flows and melts away. Almost all of them feel tranquil and relaxed, some reporting it is the only time they feel peaceful/anxiety-free. Other forms of movement (jazzercize, zumba, strength training), which they do enjoy, do not seem to produce the same feeling of peace and tranquility in this group as yoga does. A few of them continue to use the free online pranayama breathing and meditation audio tracks on www.mahasriyoga.com, during the week.

A weekly group yoga class for seniors (60-75 minutes) has proved to be very beneficial and the seniors eagerly look forward to it–most of these seniors have been coming now for three years, for 24 to 36 weeks each year. The town offers the seniors very low-cost classes at $2.50 per class. The payback in their well being is significant. During town budget cuts all senior classes were spared and the town is supportive of the well being of its senior population.

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